Hives. Stomach pain. Vomiting. Lethargy. An anaphylactic reaction is terrifying. Maybe you kicked into gear and gave them the epinephrine shot. Perhaps you were like me in the beginning and took them straight to the ER, not sure if you had needed to give an epinephrine shot. Maybe it was the school telling you there had been an incident. Maybe it was at home.
Suddenly, everything in you is on alert!
What no one tells you as a parent about the aftermath of an anaphylactic reaction is…
After you and your child have returned home from the hospital…
After everything calms down and you are left with time to think…
There is a whole tsunami of emotions that comes flooding in.
You will have feelings.
Intense, Big, Overwhelming emotions that leave you raw and devastated. Grateful, but also, devastated.
The Three Most Common Emotions For Parents After Dealing With a Child’s Anaphylactic Reaction
The guilt is immense. Whether you were there or not. Whether it was your mistake or not. We are the parents. We are the protectors of our child. How could we have let that happen? When they are hurt, we immediately feel responsible.
Now, remember emotions have a purpose. Guilt tells us we have done something wrong, that we mustn’t do in the future. It can tell us this with intensity. When the ER nurse told me I should have epi’ed prior to coming to the ER, I was still disoriented. But when the allergist gently but firmly said the same thing the next day, I was overwhelmed with the guilt at not having given my son life-saving medication at the first coughs and hives after ingestion. The truth is I had the luxury to learn from that situation. And the guilt was the punch in the stomach, that would always remind me.
So let the feelings run through you and dissipate. Don’t hold on to them but do feel them. Regardless of how it happened or what you did after, you now have the chance to learn from what happened. Let any guilt you feel, push to you integrate, and be assertive with what you learned. Then, let the guilt go.
You are a strong food allergy warrior. Stand up tall.
The what-ifs can be vivid, intrusive, and constant after an anaphylactic reaction. You’re mind goes to all the possibilities. The other scenarios. The worst. That pit in your stomach can feel like it will never go away. Sometimes the experience is so intense it’s hard to catch your breath. Or maybe you find these thoughts are accompanied by tears and more tears. Let the tears flow. You have experienced trauma. Your mind and your body are trying to take in what has happened.
Those first few days you may need to let your mind try to understand what happened. If thoughts come, let them. What you should not try to do is obsess over them. Turning them over and over in your mind will only keep your mind in a heightened state of anxiety. Playing out horrible scenarios ad nauseum will not help you or your child. Let the thoughts come in, notice them, and let them go. Breathe. Breathe some more.
When something threatens the survival of our family, it activates the fear centers of our brain. We are wired for survival, as an individual, and as a species. This process is automatic and sends our entire body into fight or flight survival mode. The emotions of fear tell us something is dangerous.
The heart quickening, hypervigilance, thoughts racing, the agitation…
In the aftermath of an anaphylactic reaction, your whole self is on overdrive to prevent another reaction. It takes time to feel in control again. It takes time to feel like you got this.
You have to process your reactions in the aftermath of a child’s anaphylactic reaction.
Moving Forward From an Anaphylactic Reaction in New Jersey
Calm Your Body
Our breath is one of the quickest ways to calm our agitated body. Taking slow breaths allows us to communicate with our lower brain (our feeling brain) that we are ok and that any danger has passed. Consider warm showers and other ways that will physically relax your body.
Tell Your Story
Talking about what has happened with someone who cares can help calm any traumatic reaction you may be having. Simply telling your story can allow the mind (thinking brain) to regroup and come to terms with what happened. Research also suggests that writing about a traumatic event can help the mind process it. So call your best friend. Jump on those Facebook groups and connect with your tribe.
Keep Going, Warrior
Finally, keep going. It will be scary at first. There may be things you need to change. You may decide that there are things that your family needs to do differently. But you have to remain committed to living life despite the fears. Be brave.
Remember, after your child has recovered from an anaphylactic reaction:
Let yourself feel without judgment
Get support. Consider seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma, or food allergies and anxiety
Embrace and integrate what you learned
Practice Forgiving Yourself
Embrace your child. All the time.
You can do this. You are doing this. It feels like a lot of big, scary, and unknown stuff right now. But, you and your child are okay now. The anaphylactic trauma reaction is normal. If you want to learn more about trauma therapy in Scotch Plains, NJ, or online therapy in New Jersey, we would love to talk more.
Listen in on this podcast with Dr. Fawn McNeil-Haber about this topic at with the Exploring Food Allergy Families Podcast.
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At Brave Minds Psychological Services, we offer a variety of services from our licensed therapists in order to get you on the right path to healing. Our therapeutic services include therapy for children, anxiety treatment for children, child sexual abuse therapy, therapy for teens, anxiety treatment for teens, teen social phobia therapy, adult anxiety counseling, couples counseling, counseling for parents, postpartum counseling, birth trauma therapy, and sexual assault counseling for adults. We also have a blog where we write about a variety of different mental health subjects. If you’re interested in learning more about our services here at Brave Minds Psychological Services or online, please contact our Scotch Plains counseling office! Proud to serve Fanwood, Westfield, Cranford, New Providence, and surrounding areas.